The Middle East has become old news, or so it would appear in the political analysis of Washington and other Western capitals.
The region was once the focus of their attention and was always at the heart of their political, military, economic, and security concerns. America was immediately stimulated into action by the British, French and Israeli invasion of Egypt. America and her allies were immediately stirred to free Kuwait from the clutches of Saddam Hussein’s invasion, and to topple Saddam Hussein on the chance that he possessed weapons of mass destruction. And America swiftly moved against the Al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Afghanistan after the notorious events of 9/11.
However, Barack Obama showed great hesitation when it came to implementing his decision to bring consequences to bear against Bashar Al-Assad and his government, following his use of chemical weapons against his own people in a gruesome massacre outside Damascus that has claimed more than 1400 victims, most of them women and children.
But Obama surprised the world by changing his mind and pressing for Congress to vote in his favor. At the same time his foreign minister opened the door for the problem to be solved by saying that if the Assad regime in Syria rid itself of chemical weapons then the military threat would end, and this is what is happening. And of course before that, the British parliament voted against participation in any attack against Assad and his arsenal.
These new positions tell us that the region is no longer a high priority in US policy, something well understood by a country such as Japan, which relies heavily on imports of oil from the Middle East and particularly the Gulf, and which now views developments in the region with great anxiety and discomfort.
The region still suffers from the disruption of Iraq’s attempts to return to its former rates of production and export, just as it does with Iran, Nigeria, Libya and Algeria. Every country has its reasons, but ultimately all the reasons fall into the bracket of turmoil and political chaos. Japan would add Yemen and Sudan to these countries as well, despite the small amount of oil they produce.
Japan sees in the Arab Spring and its consequences big reasons to worry. It sees the burgeoning religious and sectarian tension and the danger of it spreading to different regions in the Arab world due to the fragility of these communities, and the reckless way they deal with religious, ethnic and sectarian differences.
This all means that there will be an increase in unrest, worry, chaos and violence in this part of the world following the revision of US security priorities and the remarkable, if indirect, increase in the influence of China and Russia.
Today, China has an air force base in East Africa and has contributed to reducing the number of attacks by pirates by more than 98% in one year. The Russians are trying to improve their relations with Iran and it will be interesting to observe how this develops and changes given the clear turnaround in American-Iranian relations.
All these developments have made Japan think seriously about creating a military and security presence to support Gulf countries in combating extremism and terrorism.
It is important for Gulf countries to understand that Japan has good reasons to be concerned and is studying and planning security contingencies. It is therefore prepared because it is facing pressures from its most important ally, the US, which has once again turned to exporting oil. It has therefore asked Japan to buy its oil from America rather than the Gulf. It is a scenario that is neither far off nor imaginary, and Japan is preparing for it.